Monday, August 14, 2017

What REAL "Heritage, Not Hate" Would Look Like

My father was career military so I'm not really “from” any one particular place, but between childhood, adolescence and adulthood, I've spent more than half my life living in former Confederate states, so technically, I qualify as a “Southerner.” And I'm about as pale as you can get without crossing the line into full-fledged albino status, which means I'm among the whitest of white Southerners, too.

Meanwhile, there's an ongoing argument which claims that my own heritage, history and/or culture is under attack, due to efforts to remove Confederate memorials from public places, or rename public streets and buildings named after Confederate heroes. To which I say: hogwash. Quit honoring Confederates; the only good thing to say about the Confederacy is that it lost. If private citizens want to continue honoring the memory of slavery and those who fought to defend it, that of course is their right, but the government should not be using taxpayers' money to glamorize such people.

Nor am I impressed by arguments that statues or road signs honoring Confederates are a vital part of “Southern heritage,” “Southern history” or “Southern culture.” Surely, there's more to the heritage, history and culture than those four years fighting for the right to own slaves? You could name streets after various Southern literary greats -- there's far too many to mention here, but off the top of my head I can think of Harper Lee, Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, Truman Capote and Alice Walker. Or, erect monuments and name public buildings after the various genres of music which started in the South, or the Southern musicians who made those genres famous. One could honor famous painters and other artists from the South. Or Southern inventors and scientists ranging from John Pemberton to George Washington Carver …. if “honoring Southern history, heritage and culture” (rather than honoring white supremacy and those who fought to maintain it) were the actual goal, there are plenty of options which don't require fetishizing the four years white Southerners spent trying to secede from the United States so they wouldn't have to give up their slaves.

(To forestall any arguments a la “It wasn't about slavery; it was about states' rights! And tariffs!” .... bullshit. Read the actual Confederate states' own articles of secession, which explicitly mention the importance of preserving slavery and/or white supremacy. As for the counterargument “What about monuments honoring slaveowners such as Washington and Jefferson, huh? You wanna take THOSE down, too?” ... those men today are honored and remembered for other things they did despite the stain of slavery on their souls. There's a big difference between “refusing to honor famous people who happened to own slaves” and “refusing to honor people who are famous solely because they fought their own countrymen to preserve the right to own slaves.” Had slavery never existed in America, there would still be plenty of reasons for American history books today to remember the likes of Washington and Jefferson ... but no reason at all to remember the likes of Jefferson Davis.)

Friday, August 11, 2017

James Damore, Aaron Sobczak, and the Right to Free Speech

For the past couple weeks I've been facepalming on the sidelines of two online free-speech battles: a small skirmish generally unknown to anyone outside of the libertarian Twittersphere, and a larger, more recent war making headlines around the world.

First, the libertarian skirmish: during a libertarian conference on the weekend of July 29, the Ladies of Liberty Alliance, using the hashtag #MakeLibertyWin, went on Twitter to ask for suggestions on how to get more women involved in the libertarian movement.

In response, a young man named Aaron Sobczak, a Liberty University student who is or was the state chair of Virginia's Libertarian Youth Caucus, tweeted back a photo of a sandwich, alongside the witty and original suggestion that this is “The best way for a woman to #MakeLibertyWin.” Later – though I don't know the exact timeline of events – he doubled down on his comment by making a public Facebook post claiming that “screeching feminists” are why women shouldn't be involved in the liberty movement at all (except, presumably, as sandwich-makers for the menfolks).

In response, Reason writer Elizabeth Nolan Brown tweeted a screenshot of Sobczak's comedy stylings, under the observation “This is a young man who ostensibly wants a job someday, tweeting at professional women in his field under his own name,” and “RT to help ensure Aaron Sobczak’s prospective employers know this when they search for Aaron Sobczak’s name.”

Which made a lot of capital-L Libertarians furious – what kind of horrid groupthink is Brown promoting, suggesting that a man should suffer professional consequences just for spouting an unpopular opinion?

Though not usually prolific on Twitter, I decided to join the fray myself, re-tweeting Brown's comment along with this observation:
Libertarian hypocrisy: "We don't need anti-discrimination laws; The Market will punish sexism. Also, how DARE ENBrown call out this bigot!"
I'll be the first to agree: it would be awful to live in a world where merely “expressing an unpopular opinion” seriously hurts someone's chances of making a decent living. But what if that “unpopular opinion” specifically boils down to “I believe certain groups of people – many of whom are employees or customers of my employer – are inherently inferior, somehow”? If a libertarian-outreach organization refuses to hire Sobczak just because he wants to pre-emptively write off slightly more than half the human race, is that organization punishing him for non-conformity to groupthink – or making a sensible, defensible decision?

Kat Murti of the Cato Institute posted a 13-tweet thread explaining Sobczak's genitally focused idiocy in more detail;  for convenience's sake, I've combined all 13 tweets into a single paragraph here:
I stand by @ENbrown and those who critiqued the "sandwich tweet." Here's why... The tweet was posted in response to a discussion about women's role in the liberty movement and misogyny faced by libertarian women. The tweeter is a low-level representative of a liberty org who was attending a liberty conference and tweeting at fellow libertarians. No one searched out sexist jokes to make an example of their tweeters; the tweet was meant to be seen. It was made publicly, using the hashtag of the discussion, & tagged numerous libertarian women & orgs. It was not taken out of context. This was not a "joke." When called on it, the tweeter's response underscored these were his actual views on libertarian women. He (posting publicly on Facebook) said "screeching feminists" are exactly why women shouldn't be a part of the liberty movement. Suggesting that someone who hold these views is not a good ambassador for liberty is not an attack on his free speech. None of the people critiquing the original tweet called for legal repercussions or a violent response to silence the tweeter. However, some libertarian women who shared the tweet received anonymous texts with their home addresses & threats (actual doxxing). While I do think political correctness and call-out culture has in many cases gone overboard, this was not such a case. Libertarians must take a (peaceful, voluntary) stand against bigotry espoused by those who purport to be a part of our movement. Misogyny is not a libertarian value and standing against it is not an attack on free speech.
I've no qualms about admitting I agree completely with Murti's take: a man who espouses views antithetical to liberty shouldn't be employed in the liberty movement. But what about non-political (or apolitical) employers – is it acceptable for them to not-want to hire a man who publicly argues the inherent inferiority of women? Who is the source of the problem here: the man who repeatedly, publicly expresses a low opinion of women, or the women (and friends of same) who don't want to work with or for such a man?

A few years ago, the then-CEO of Mozilla resigned after it came out that he'd donated time and money to political efforts against gay marriage. Same conundrum: yeah, it stinks that someone lost his job merely for an unpopular opinion, but on the other hand that specific opinion was "Certain of my fellow citizens – many of whom work for this company, or use this company's products – are undeserving of full equal legal rights." Are the "un-equal" people in question being oppressors, if they say "Y'know, I really don't want to work for or with a man who is so convinced of my inherent inferiority?" Or "Given how many identical products there are on the market, I choose to use the product made by executives who don't seek to deprive me of equal rights?"

That said, the issue of former Google engineer James Damore is a bit trickier. Damore lost his job after publishing – on an internal Google message board – a ten-page pseudo-intellectual screed basically arguing that the reason companies like Google have far fewer women than men on their payroll is because of inherent biological differences. (He also implied – though never outright stated – that racial disparities in hiring are also due to biology rather than culture.)

My single favorite eyeroll-worthy paragraph from Damore's memo is probably this one:
Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.”
If nothing else, I admire Damore's talent for creating semi-plausible deniability for himself: no, he did not specifically say that striving for full racial or sexual equality is as unrealistic as Communism's attempts to bring about full economic equality. And he doesn't specifically say that anyone opposed to sexism or racism is either a gorram Commie or unwilling dupe of same. All he did was post a historical fact about the repeated failures of Communism! And all Sobczak did was tweet a photo of a delicious-looking sandwich.


See if you can find the logical flaw in the following hypothetical statement: “Certain people will call us neo-Nazis 'bigots' just because we hate all Jews... yet those same people never call Jews 'bigots' even though they hate all neo-Nazis. That's because of hypocrisy.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

It's Not White "Privilege"; It's White "Insulation"

A friend of mine -- white, civil libertarian, thoroughly opposed to racism and as appalled as I am by how modern American police enjoy the de facto legal right to kill any innocent (and usually black) person they see, so long as said cop later takes the time to say "Whoops, I was really totally scared for my life" -- was talking about the concept of "privilege," most often seen in the term "white privilege," and said he opposes it on the following grounds:

...however well-intended its original purpose (and let's assume here that it was well-intended), it has devolved into a tool for delegitimizing people on the basis of their race and/or sex. It doesn't allow for looking people at individuals, but defines them based solely on group characteristics. In that, it perfectly mimics the racism it supposedly targets.

The concept embodied by that use of "privilege" is real, but the actual word "Privilege" is probably the wrong one to use, in part for the reasons he mentions. I prefer the suggestion of another friend of mine, who once said that the word should instead be replaced by "insulation." If your house is insulated, you're not completely protected from temperature extremes, but the more insulation you have, the less likely those extremes are to bother you.

My being white and speaking with what Americans call an educated middle- or upper-middle-class accent doesn't guarantee me immunity from bad cops, for example, but it gives me a lot of insulation compared to any American black person, even with the same or better educational and financial status. 

Imagine if you will an upper-class modern black family -- no doubt their wealth in many ways gives them an easier life than I have had, and opportunities I lack. On the other hand: I've never had cops arrest me for trying to enter my own house (or a friend's house in a ritzy neighborhood), whereas Henry Louis Gates did -- even though he was surely dressed better at the time than I usually am. Gates is a Harvard professor who is friends with an ex-president, much richer than me, and has a far better career too -- I am not "privileged" compared to him, but I have a hell of a lot more insulation than he does, against such indignities as "Cops in a rich neighborhood look at my complexion and automatically, wrongly assume I must be up to no good."

The idea "innocent person minding his or her own business is not hassled by the cops" should not be considered a "privilege" in an ostensibly free country. In the country we actually have, unfortunately, even innocent people who mind their own business often find themselves harassed by cops, arrested by cops, even murdered by cops (who rarely face any legal consequences, provided the cop remembers to say "Whoops, I was really totally scared for my life" afterwards). I cannot guarantee nothing like this will ever happen to me -- but so far, my skin tone has provided me excellent insulation against this extreme example of modern American injustice.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Of Gun-Free Zones and Transgender Bathrooms

I've noticed an odd left wing vs. right wing dichotomy regarding belief in the magical power of signs: if you believe "A person intent on committing mass murder will be deterred by a sign saying 'This is a gun-free zone'," your politics most likely lean toward the left. By contrast, if you believe "A person intent on raping a child in a public bathroom will be deterred by a sign meaning 'This bathroom off-limits to those who genitalia at birth looked like your own'," your politics most likely lean toward the right. Both ends of the political spectrum have adherents who manage to believe "A person evil enough to commit major felony harm against another human being will surely be scared off by the prospect of misdemeanor charges being added on."

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Trumpism Is A Cult, Not A Political Movement

There's far too many lies spewing out of the Trump administration for a single part-time blogger to keep up with them all, but one particularly facepalm-worthy event from yesterday is when Sean Spicer made repeated references to non-existent “Islamic terrorism” here in my new hometown of Atlanta. (Fact check: Atlanta did suffer from terrorist attacks in the 1990s, most infamously the 1996 Olympic bombing – but the terrorist in question was no Islamic import but Eric Rudolph, a home-grown right-wing American Christian white guy.)

How many Trump fans called Spicer out on this? Not a single damned one that I saw. Of course, they were eager to commend Spicer for his honesty the next day, when he stated that he merely “misspoke” (he'd meant to say “Orlando,” not “Atlanta”),  yet they even managed to give that a dishonestly partisan spin – the people who readily forgave Spicer's multiple Atlanta-related slips of the tongue and Kellyanne Conway's “accidental” repeated mentions of the non-existent Bowling Green Massacre were the same ones who, back in the day, insisted that Barack Obama was a clueless stupidhead who genuinely believed there are 57 states in the U.S. Thus, Obama's one-time slip of the tongue becomes a deliberate lie (or admission of ignorance), whereas the oft-repeated lies of the Trumpsters were all mere slips of the tongue.

Trump supporters act more like a cult than members of a political party. Of course American politics has always had its share of unprincipled hyper-partisan hacks – we've all known our share of Democrats who outright refused to see or admit to any flaws in Obama or Clinton, and Republicans who took the same view toward Romney or Bush (I remember one man back in the day, swear to Zod, who insisted that only a hardcore Democratic shill could possibly doubt the intelligence and qualifications of then-vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin) – but the majority of people on both sides of the political aisle took a more moderate approach: “I voted for [Obama or Bush] because I thought he was better than his opponent, but I still don't like the time he said this, his policy in support of that, or his appointment of what's-his-face to whatever cabinet position.”

But I have yet to meet a single Trumpster who has admitted to any flaws in the man or his mouthpieces. At this point, you'd have better luck trying to find a Sea Org Scientologist who's willing to admit that L. Ron Hubbard had some kooky ideas about human psychology.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Trump Signs Executive Orders Without Reading Them

I won't even try making a punchline for this, since nothing could top this straightforward quote from the New York Times:
Mr. Priebus bristles at the perception that he occupies a diminished perch in the West Wing pecking order compared with previous chiefs. But for the moment, Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.
Think about that: not only does our dumbshit president not write his own executive orders, he doesn't even read the damned things before he signs them! To the point where he didn't even realize who he was appointing to his own security council. Remember that the next time some Trumpster insists he's a savvy businessman; a truly savvy businessman (or halfway intelligent teenager) would know better than to sign any contract without reading it first.

The same day the Times reported this story, Trump took to Twitter and said "I have instructed Homeland Security to check people coming into our country VERY CAREFULLY. The courts are making the job very difficult!" But I offered an even better idea: why not have Homeland Security check the contents of his executive orders before he signs them? You know, since Trump can't be bothered to read them himself.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Only Way To Save The World From Trump

Too much insanity coming out of the White House lately to keep up with it all, but here's two headsmacking highlights from Wednesday's news: in a phone call last Friday, he allegedly threatened to send the U.S. military into Mexico to "stop bad hombres down there." The next day, during a phone call with Australia's prime minister, the Washington Post says this happened:

It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that “This was the worst call by far.”
Apparently Steve Bannon forgot to tell Trump that Mexico and Australia are both U.S. allies.

Will somebody other than Melania please give Trump a blowjob so the Republicans will finally impeach that narcissistic nutcase? I'd volunteer to take one for the team myself, except I'm not young enough: judging from his track record, any candidate for his adulterous intentions has to be at least seven years younger than his most-recent wife.
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